Common questions I hear from clients who engage in PTSD treatment include, “why am I not past this trauma yet?” and/or “why do I keep thinking about the trauma?” These questions are completely understandable, and usually from individuals new to trauma therapy or who have not ever participated in treatment. So, what is the answer?
When a person experiences a trauma their beliefs may change about how they see themselves, others, and the world. The person continues to hold these new beliefs and therefore, they can let them invade into their life. In a sense, they replay the same tape in their mind and do not sit back and examine these beliefs. For example, someone may have believed “I am safe in most situations” may now see themselves as always unsafe. Some beliefs may be true, but many of these beliefs may be unrealistic and unbalanced, and can certainly impact your everyday wellbeing. This is where trauma therapy can help. In properly conducted trauma therapy you will identify and examine the trauma beliefs- commonly called stuck points- where you continue to stay stuck in the beliefs. After these beliefs are identified, we then focus on modifying them to more balanced and accurate thoughts.
Another factor that affects people from moving forward are emotions. Trauma creates painful feelings so individuals may avoid feeling the naturally occurring feelings such as the sadness and anger related to the trauma. These feelings are called natural feelings, though they are avoided in people with past traumatic experiences because the feelings are too intense. This interferes in processing the trauma, which is essential to successfully treat PTSD and past trauma. While without treatment, and even in the initial stages of treatment, it is commonplace to be afraid these past feeling will be too intense to deal with, I liken these feelings to a coke bottle that you vigorously shake. They may fizzle and even overflow at first, but eventually the fizz comes down and things settle. A key to treatment is being able to experience the emotions about the trauma and allow them to take their natural course. While this may seem unmanageable or impossible on your own, through therapy, we can deal with these feelings in an effective manner.
Another type of feelings, referred to as manufactured feelings, occur based on how you interpret the trauma you have experienced. For example, “I am responsible for the abuse” may lead to feelings of shame and anger. The more someone continues to think these thoughts, the more those emotions are fueled. By changing the thoughts that are not based on facts, we can change the manufactured unpleasant emotions. The keys to treatment are processing natural emotions, identifying stuck point thoughts and modifying to more adaptive realistic thoughts, which then change manufactured emotions, Avoidance of emotions, thoughts, and situations related to trauma is a big factor fueling the maintenance of PTSD symptoms. A skilled psychologist trained in PTSD treatment can assist in moving past the trauma and improving overall psychological well being.
For more information or to set up an initial consultation related to PTSD treatment please feel free and call me at 404-954-2713.